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Why Can’t the Raptors Pick it and Roll it?

The Raptors' half-court offence is wretched. The Pick and Roll could be one way to break them out of that funk.

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*All data is sourced prior to the Monday night slate.

We anticipated scoring woes, didn’t we?

We’re not surprised they’re 22nd in points scored per game, are we?

I’m not, but I’m not all that mad about it either.

Hell, considering they’re 24th in 3s and 25th in free throws, it’s altogether pretty impressive.

They leave 20 3s (11/32) and 5 free throws (13/18) off the court every game and still score more than 7 other teams. Hit a coupla’ more of each and maybe we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

But here we are.

Besides, it’s not simply a matter of “doooo better”. You watch a couple – or ALL – of the Raptors games and it becomes pretty clear how uggo things can be. In or not, you have that little voice in your chest gurgle, “Oooo I dunno about that” every time a shot goes up. Feels a little like contemplating that third plate of bobotie.

I mean, how many times have we, thus far, watched the final seconds of a possession turn into an OG iso-dribble into a forced pull-up or lay-up, or get dizzy watching Freddy squiggle about, or exalt one of Gary Trent Jr.’s pivot-fade-away-hero spear throws at the rim?  A lot. The Raptors take the most field-goal attempts in the final four seconds or less in the shot clock in the league.

They are up against it like they’re Kiefer Sutherland.

The countdown calamity is a consequence of their anaemic half-court offence – they’re in the 25th percentile in points per play in the half-court – where they fail to create rim-pressure or, at least, disgruntle set defences with varied attacks. Everywhere you turn, it’s friction.

They’re 10th in drives and 10th in passes, but are 22nd in points off drives (one point away from last) and 21st in assists off drives; they’re also near last in assists, potential assists, and secondary assists. Isolation attacks are the same story, they’re 10th in isolation frequency, but 24th in points scored per possession in isolation.

Unless FVV is poppin’ or OG is going full T-Mac or Scottie Barnes fires up his little hesi-pull-up, there’s little going. Approximately 50% of the Raptors’ field goal attempts have a defender within 0-4 feet; they also shoot some of the fewest wide-open threes in the league.

Suffice it to say, things aren’t working – THANK FREAKING GOD for their offensive rebounding and the fast break!

So, maybe it’s time for a bit of a change?

Working the Pick & Roll

With Pascal Siakam returning, things will improve – eventually. He’s another scorer who can create for himself or make the defence nervous when he’s on the weakside. Guys like Gary and Barnes will have weaker defenders shift down to them making it easier for them to get what they want.

Still. They’ve got offensive congestion, and, to me, more Pick & Roll (P&R) is a simple remedy.

It’s kind of true Nick Nurse doesn’t love to run it, especially with Gasol, Ibaka, and, now, Lowry gone. In their championship year and the one following, the Raptors used Gasol and Ibaka a lot in the P&R, leveraging Marc’s elite passing and Serge’s solid pick&popping.

Last year, roller usage dropped off significantly with Aron Baynes and Chris Boucher as the main men in the middle – go figure. Instead, they increased the ballhandler’s usage; I suspect that was sheer desperation.

This year, Toronto doesn’t use either. The Raptors run only 4% of their possessions through the screener and 14% of their possessions through the handler. They’re in the bottom part of the league in points scored for both categories.

I’m no P&R pusher. It can be boring, repetitive, and slow the game down considerably, which is NOT something the Raptors want to do. It’s also frustrating, as a fan, to watch teams hunt the weakest defender and punish his court presence over-and-over-and-over again. A common Playoff strategy.

That’s not what I’m suggesting.

I just want a bit more. A little bit more. Just a bit.

Not solely with Freddy and Khem or Precious. But with Freddy and OG. Freddy and Scottie. Scottie and OG. Pascal and Gary. Scottie and Khem.

Whoever. Give me a Bits and Bites of pick and rolls – a different handful every time.

Masai’s built a team of athletic mismatches across this roster. Barnes and OG are supremely large for their respective positions or, if countered with power forwards, quicker. Pascal’s string cheese in the paint. Banton water strides his way across the hardwood. Precious and Khem are both more agile than the prototypical big.

There are few defenders in the league who can comfortably switch on to this collection of popsicle-stick action figures. Evan Mobley happened to be one of those guys the other night. Kevin Durant’s another. There’s at most one or two on a roster.

For Toronto, the P&R is like the play-action in the NFL. It’s not necessarily going to lead to immediate points, but it keeps defences guessing and allows secondary or tertiary options blossom. Our team is intelligent enough to identify defencess mistakes or mistimings and exploit them in the right conditions.

We can’t forget either, guys like Precious and Boucher were used to getting the ball out of the P&R – 23% of Precious’, 27% of Boucher’s, and 31% of Khem’s (as a Raptor) possessions were as a roller last year.

You can see below how simple P&R complicates things for defences in either the initial action or the subsequent ones.

Patty Mills goes over the screen to keep FVV off the three. LaMarcus Aldridge is overboiled spaghetti at this point in his career and is just trying to keep it together. Classic James Harden, doesn’t step in front of Precious or close out on Svi. If you pause, you can see how much space Precious has. CRAM-JAM-THANK-YOU-MA’AM. In the second, FVV gets the switch and heads to the rim, Kuzma’s on his hip so he circles to the baseline for an open OG. OG’s sitting pretty because Montrez Harrell is there to ward off Freddy and help on Birch’s roll. Neto’s utterly lost. The final play is Barnes finishing with an iso-spin on Patrick Williams. The P&R had little to do with it directly, but, as I have said, getting the defence in a tizzy, created time and space for Barnes to attack.

That’s just in typical guard-big P&R. It’s not the sexy stuff.

Scottie Barnes’ one challenge in the half-court is his ballhandling. He’s not well-equipped to break guys down in the triple-threat or off-the-dribble without preceding actions. The dribble-hand-off has worked so well for him and is one way to get him going downhill in the half-court.

Functioning as the ballhandler and screener in the P&R are two other ways. OG and Pascal are much stronger in their iso games but struggle at times, too, particularly when All Eyez On Them. P&R can mollify that defensive density and give them the breathing room to operate.

These speak for themselves. Pascal and Scottie are so long and tall that they can roll into traffic and make better, sharper plays than Khem or Precious can. All three (OG included) can also pop on the roll much more effectively than the Raptors’ bigs. Scottie’s three-ball is lacking, but get him around the screen at 10-15 feet and he’s proven fatal.

Here’s OG doing what, apparently, Precious has had much trouble doing so far this year:

So much can come out of that Horns set, in cross-actions, in dives, and in different P&R configurations.

I threw this one in just to make you light-headed. If you’ve a pacemaker, you best leave the room. This could be the future of the Raptors right here.

It’s not all that pretty, I know, but it’s workable. Scottie screens for Banton who, as you’d guess, immediately accelerates towards the hoop. He jumps to pass – a no-no – but with his height finds Gary for the secondary attack. The Pacers close it off, but look where they all end up; they’re out of position, the recoveries commence, Scottie blows his attack, but the point is how easily he gets to the rim thanks to that shifting desperation from Indiana. If you go back to the initial screen, Scottie’s WIDE OPEN for the shot. Dalano’s too fast for his own good; no problem, that’ll come in time.

Finally, our rising star, OG Anunoby. He’s been deep-frying Brussels Sprouts of late. Busting out for 36 against New York. But he still has periods of translucence, where he struggles to create separation or his shot’s not falling. In isolation, he’s struggled. He scores 0.70 points per possession on 3 isolations a game. I foresee more P&R in his future. He’s learning quickly how to assess his defender and to decide which weapon is best utilized. The P&R would get him that iota of leverage he needs to sauce his defender.

In the first clip, Precious gives the weakest screen known to human-kind. Kyle Kuzma still goes under and OG jacks and misses. The second is SO DYNAMIC. Kuzma goes over this time. OG crosses THE SHIT outta Kuzma and Daniel Gafford who then proceeds to return the favour and…block the shit out of OG. But still. Third, OG shows the repertoire pulling out the step-back. The fourth is a glimpse into the deadliness of OG and Barnes. It’s a bit of a cheater as an off-ball screen, whatever. OG doesn’t hesitate and nails the three. Scottie’s there for the dump on the roll.

There are so many variations and permutations available within the P&R. It unlocks so much more for rollers, screeners, cutters, and recipients of subsequent actions. The kind of offensive germination this team so desperately needs.

Besides, their offence stinks. What’ve they got to lose?

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